Alex’s End of Year Prizes 2014

Merry Christmas to you all! Hope you’re all having a great time so far and are eating, drinking and sharing with loved ones aplenty. (Here come the emojis 😄 🎄 🎁 🎀 ❄ 🎅 🐧)

2014 has been a busy and exciting year for me, and usually, those who’ve read my Facebook for the last five or six years will know that I focus on writing about my what-I-call ‘Personal Bests’. This is typically a rundown of my 50 best albums and 50 best singles of the year. Alas, I haven’t found near enough that amount of albums or singles to justify lists of that length this year.

Nonetheless, I did want to write some end of year pieces about not just my favourite music, but my favourite films, TV and books from the past year. So today, I am handing out these bad boys, I give you…

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Yes. In something that I hope to become a broader, more annual tradition at this time of year, think of it as my equivalent of Smash Hits (RIP) Poll Winners Party crossed with the BRITs when it was good. So ladies and gentleman, please take your seats for our End of Year Prizes…

WOMAN OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

MIRANDA HART
CLAUDIA WINKLEMAN
CAROLINE FLACK
CHERYL
FRANKIE BRIDGE

And the winner is…

CAROLINE FLACK!

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Xtra! Xtra! News…FLASH! Just a couple of weeks after she deservedly lifted the glitterball trophy on Strictly Come Dancing, our favourite presenter on the box Caroline’s had a pretty amazing year this year, and now, set for even more amazing achievements to come in 2015 she takes home our prize for ‘Woman of the Year’.

Our next award is a special prize, for:

COMEBACK OF 2014

This is an award with only one nominee, and thus one winner given in recognition of an outstanding comeback this year.

And the winner is…

S CLUB 7!

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Over 10 years on from their split, the pop reunion we were really waiting for with the S Club gang finally happened as they brought it all back to us this year (see what we did there?) with a blast of a reunion performance on Children in Need in November. They’ll hit the road again in spring 2015 and we for one cannot wait. Ooh, ooh, it’s a party over here…

Our first film award is next…

FILM OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

MUPPETS MOST WANTED
THE LOVE PUNCH
SAVING MR BANKS
BEAUTIFUL LIES
BRAVE

And the winner is…

SAVING MR BANKS!

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Based on the personal travails that P.L Travers, author of the original Mary Poppins books faced when Walt Disney was to turn her creation into the family favourite we all know and love, we’re shocked that neither Tom Hanks or Emma Thompson in their brilliant lead roles in this got a look in at the Oscars. Thankfully though this wonderful film gets a look in from us today.

Next up, our first music award:

SINGLE OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

CLEAN BANDIT AND JESS GLYNNE (for ‘Rather Be’)
ED SHEERAN (for ‘Sing’)
CHERYL AND TINIE TEMPAH (for ‘Crazy Stupid Love’)
MNEK (for ‘Wrote a Song About You’)
OLLY MURS AND TRAVIE MCCOY (for ‘Wrapped Up’)
McBUSTED (for ‘Air Guitar’)
GEORGE EZRA (for ‘Budapest’)
PHARRELL WILLIAMS (for ‘Happy’)
CHARLI XCX (for ‘Boom Clap’)
NICOLE SCHERZINGER (for ‘Your Love’)

And the winner is…

PHARRELL WILLIAMS for ‘Happy’!

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Originally scooting in at #2 on the Christmas chart this time last year, it shot up to #1 across the globe in January, and ‘Happy’ hasn’t left the UK top 40 for the large majority of this year, selling over a million copies in this country alone. And, not only did it put Pharrell back on the map after a few years in producer wilderness, it offered a bright ray of sunshine in a chart landscape that was otherwise bereft of sunny, upbeat and well, ‘happy’ pop.

Next, we present another one nominee, one winner award…

BOOK OF THE YEAR

And the winner is…

DERMOT O’LEARY for ‘The Soundtrack to My Life’!

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Most celeb biographies are badly written tosh. But not so Mr O’Leary, who gave us what we feel is easily the funniest, warmest and most candid read we’ve had all year, telling his life story to date through the medium of the music that has defined who he is as a person. It’s also the only book in living memory to make reference to both Terry Wogan and 90’s boyband 5ive. Go figure.

We’ve had our Woman of the Year, and with woman, must surely, come man…

MAN OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

PHARRELL WILLIAMS
OLLY MURS
JAMES CORDEN
JOHN BISHOP
MARVIN HUMES

And the winner is…

OLLY MURS!

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Turning 30 this year. Releasing another brilliant new album with ‘Never Been Better’. Winning both a GQ award in Germany and Rear of the Year. But all of that pales in comparison to him receiving an End of Year Prize for Man of the Year, because he really is still the same man we first met five years ago. Don’t ever change Olls. Top geez!

Another music award is up next…

BAND OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

THE SATURDAYS
CLEAN BANDIT
COLDPLAY
McBUSTED
LOVEABLE ROGUES

And the winners are…

McBUSTED!

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Combining the already brilliant McFly with the best members of their equally brilliant mentors and predocessors Busted at the end of last year proved to be a pop match made in heaven. Their supergroup tour was the stuff of legend among pop gig goers this year, packing the O2 out several times over as well as Hyde Park in the summer. They also made one of our favourite pop singles of the year with ‘Air Guitar’ and with another tour on the horizon in 2015, you can be assured that McBusted aren’t gonna stop anytime soon.

Time for another one nominee, one winner prize next…

COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR

And the winner is…

JOHN BISHOP!

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Liverpool’s finest was still as riotously funny as ever this year, with another brilliant stand up tour to his name as well as captaining in a hilarious series of Olympic style challenges for Sport Relief. Not to mention as well what was one of the TV highlights of the year when he and our Man of the Year, Olly Murs, battled each other in a ‘Lipsync Off’ on his ITV special!

The penultimate music award is next up…

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

THE SCRIPT (for ‘No Sound Without Silence’)
OLLY MURS (for ‘Never Been Better’)
SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR (for ‘Wanderlust’)
PHARRELL WILLIAMS (for ‘Girl’)
COLDPLAY (for ‘Ghost Stories’)
GEORGE EZRA (for ‘Wanted on Voyage’)
ED SHEERAN (for ‘X’)
VARIOUS ARTISTS (for ‘BBC Radio 2 presents Sounds of the 80’s’)
ONEREPUBLIC (for ‘Native’)
LOVEABLE ROGUES (for ‘This ‘n That’)

And the winner is…

ED SHEERAN for ‘X’!

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The biggest selling album of the year in the UK at a time when many were writing the album off as a format – and deservedly so too. Making an album that is quite possibly even better than his debut, Ed mixed it up a bit working with Pharrell Williams on chart topping ‘Sing’ whilst retaining his relatability and raw emotion on ‘Photograph’ and this album’s other big hit ‘Thinking Out Loud’. The most simple but effective pop album that continues to highlight what a true talent he is.

Another screen based prize is up next…

TV SHOW OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

BIRDS OF A FEATHER
STRICTLY COME DANCING
THE VOICE
THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW
ALAN CARR: CHATTY MAN

And the winner is…

THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW!

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With so many chat shows on in the late evening slot, it’s Graham’s one on Friday nights that continues to shine above the rest – largely by having all his guests on at once, making for some televisual (and thus YouTube) gold. Want Miranda Hart rapping with Tinie Tempah? Jennifer Aniston presenting Olly Murs with a Rear of the Year award? Gary Barlow rapping to the Fresh Prince with actual Will Smith? Or Lee Mack chewing the cud with Cheryl over tattoos? Graham’s your man.

Last music award now, and it’s a biggie…

SOLO ARTIST OF THE YEAR

And the nominations are:

PHARRELL WILLIAMS
CHERYL
OLLY MURS
ED SHEERAN
NICOLE SCHERZINGER

And the winner is…

ED SHEERAN!

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With his second prize of the year, Ed has gone from a small time busker to the biggest – but we must also say least starry (and we mean that in a nice way) – popstar on the planet. We always approve of any man who counts tea with Van Morrison as their highlight of the year. Hopefully winning an End of Year Prize from us is the icing on the cake for him.

Three more one nominee, one winner prizes to finish now. First up…

ACTOR OF THE YEAR

And the winner is…

EMMA THOMPSON!

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Apart from being robbed of a look in at the Oscars this year that we mentioned earlier, the question is almost what is there about Ms. Thompson that makes her an unworthy winner? Not much, is the answer. Proving she can turn her hand so wittily from a very British, clipped role as P.L Travers to a riotously funny wife in ‘The Love Punch’, as well as being a great screenwriter and speech giver (look up on YouTube, if you will, her speech at the Empire magazine awards this year), I’m sure she’d express her thanks far greater than we ever could.

Now for the most refined prize of them all…

STYLE ICON OF 2014

And the winner is…

DAVID BECKHAM!

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Mr Posh Spice has come a long way from the days of sarongs and buzz cuts and has very quietly become something of a real and very British style icon – perhaps nowhere more so this year than on his BBC documentary ‘Into the Unknown’, which saw him traversing into the wilds of South America pulling off a rugged biker look far better than we ever could. But for all our envy enduction it was inspiring for our wardrobe nonetheless, and for that we raise our hat to him.

Now for our final award, and it’s recognising an individual who has basically made our 2014 across all fields…

LEGEND OF 2014

And the winner is…

PHARRELL WILLIAMS!

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As we sort of mentioned with the prize for ‘Happy’ earlier, Pharrell did that one thing this year that many people have tried to claim music and never will do – make the world a bit of a better place. But as the man himself says, ‘That which makes you different, is that which makes you special’.

He’s pushed boundaries not just in music but with his more philanthropic initiatives, namely his ‘i am OTHER’ foundation looking to give the next generation of ‘different’ in music, arts and fashion their big break. He continues to be an innovator in all senses of the word and for that, Mr Williams we salute you!

A big congratulations to all the prize winners, and thanks to all who’ve read my blog this last year. More of the same to come in 2015!

Much love,

Alex 😁 x

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Richard Curtis: making a fully fledged bastard of a point since 1991 (or thereabouts).

More so in light of the controversy surrounding Russell Brand this week, we seem to have a annoyingly odd habit in this country of knocking our finest talents down when it suits us. Particularly when they so much as dare to connect with something beyond the supposed smoke and mirrors world of wealth and celebrity that often comes with it.

As one of the founders of the quasi-annual Comic Relief and a byword for very British humour, Richard Curtis has been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment several times, namely for daring to connect to real, human emotions in his many works as a scriptwriter, producer and director over the years.

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As I drag out a lot of my favourite Christmas films and shows that I watch every year at this time once again – most of which are his work – I am left pondering this conundrum even more. One might say that it’s easy to make light of Curtis for what he does – a good old, British giggle undercut by a bit of heart and soul, as on ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, ‘Notting Hill’ and, of course, ‘Love Actually’, which most believe is about Christmas-y as Curtis gets. Which is where I’d say NUH-UH.

Some 12 years before the star studded antics of Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and er, Martine McCutcheon finding love in the festive season came to our screens, there was another, sadly lesser known festive offering Richard gave us.

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‘Bernard and the Genie’ first aired on BBC One at Christmas 1991, but apart from repeat airings the following couple of years after that, seems to have been consigned to VHS only hell. It starts by setting up two dual plotlines. The first, in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago, sees a jobbing knife thrower, Josephus (played by Lenny Henry), consigned to the innards of a magic lamp by a wicked magician as punishment for accidentally killing his daughter.

The second, in modern day London in 1991 at Christmas, sees affable but shy art dealer, Bernard Bottle (played endearingly by Alan Cumming) sacked unceremoniously by his penny pinching boss (played with hilariously biting sarcasm by Rowan Atkinson) after securing a few priceless paintings and daring to suggest a charitable move from the sale of it.

Coupled with finding out on that same day that his best friend has been sleeping with his fiancée behind his back, he is soon left, jobless and dateless in his Canary Wharf flat with only serial liar Kepple the doorman for company, and the old lamp (now this is where our plotlines meet) that his now ex-fiancée got him for last Christmas.

A quick rub on the lamp and suddenly, Bernard and newly appointed genie Josephus are united, and with every wish at his command they get up to all manner of scrapes along the way and completely turn Bernard’s life upside down – for the better. I won’t give the rest of the plot away to those who are yet to see it, but I hope you’ll discover it’s every bit as brilliant as my description of it implies.

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Whilst I will grant you that some parts of the film haven’t dated well, the humour and the heart of the story hasn’t changed one bit and is every bit as relatable as Curtis made it back at the turn of the 90’s. His classic sitcom ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ starring Dawn French (pictured above) was always excellent at doing this – case in point with Geraldine’s speech about the nativity play in the Christmas episode from 1999 – undercutting sidesplitting comedy with touching moments of humanity.

When you get to one particular part of this film where Bernard and Josephus talk about the real meaning of Christmas, you come to see that even more. Particularly in a society where the cynical and aggressive commercialism of Black Friday has now come into our consciousness in the run up to the holidays, Curtis’s films and shows seek to remind us of the important things in life in an accessible way.

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And, with his adaptation of the Roald Dahl book ‘Esio Trot’ starring Dame Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman set to hit our TV screens this festive season – once again, using humour to remind us all of human emotions and affection we all look for at this time of year, this is why I feel he’s the best at what he does, and why we could all seek to see the world a little more like he does.

So if you get the chance to this Christmas, watch ‘Esio Trot’. Watch ‘Love Actually’. Or better still, get on YouTube and watch ‘Bernard and the Genie’. To quote Bernard Bottle’s sniveling boss, it makes a fully fledged bastard of a case in point as being perhaps the greatest Christmas film ever.

Why Now 44 is still my Top of the Pops

If you’ve ever seen that episode of ‘Doctor Who’ where he’s stuck in that weird parallel universe and passes a bus shelter poster advertising ‘Now 100’, you may have momentarily stopped and thought, ‘that won’t happen anytime soon, surely?’

Well, as certain as cockroaches, taxes and Craig Revel-Horwood never breaking a smile once on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, the much loved compilation series that is ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ edges ever nearer to that milestone – it’s centenary edition will be out in three years’ time, in summer 2018. And every third of the way through a given year, they keep on coming.

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With the 30th anniversary celebrations since the first volume was released in 1983 having recently taken place – which included a brilliant ITV documentary last year on the history of the series – and with the release of the 88th and 89th editions of the series having surpassed even regular artist album sales this year, the humble Now compilation has never been more relevant.

This month in the UK saw the publication in Sainsbury’s supermarkets of the first ‘Now’ book (pictured above), offering for the first time a complete retrospective of the first 88 editions and it’s many spin offs, each acting as neat little time capsules of pop at any present moment from the last three decades. It’s made for fascinating bedtime reading for me over the last few nights, and has even led me to a mad impulse eBay bidding war on one or two second hand copies of some of my favourite editions from the series.

But in today’s post, I want to sing the praises of the Now album that, after being struck with a pang of nostalgia upon finding it again in a local charity shop for 50p this year, was my very first one and, I believe, the very best one. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you my candidate for ‘Best Now album ever’:

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It was Peter Robinson, the editor of one of my favourite websites Popjustice, who once said it was easy to ascertain what year somebody was 10 years old in, just by asking them what their first Now album was. 10 years old (or the ‘pre-teen’ years as it’s so often dubbed), is when most people here in the UK tend to get their first Now album. As was the case with 10 year old me when I received my first edition, ‘Now 44’, all the way back at Christmas 1999.

You’ll have recollected from before readers, me talking about my formative experiences discovering music that was all my own discovery, as it were. And what better place to do so than with a Now album? As someone who, up to this point had grown up having to tape my favourite songs off the Top 40 on Radio 1 with Mark Goodier (himself the voice of the adverts for Now), to own the biggest hits of the last 3-4 months without painstakingly holding down ‘Play-Record’ was nothing short of pop manna from heaven.

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The genius thing about a Now album has always been that, unlike some artist albums (which let’s face it, there are 10 terrible albums for every 5 good ones) that they’re all hits on there. It’s all killer from start to end. Let’s take my candidate, for instance. There are only two albums known to man that start with ‘…Baby One More Time’, the world conquering pop anthem from 1999 that introduced the world to Britney Spears. One is Britney’s debut album of the same name. The other, Now 44.

So that’s point 1 as to why this Now album is the best. Because unlike Britney’s own first album, which in retrospect was a largely hit and miss affair, on ‘Now 44’, the Max Martin helmed stomper from Ms. Spears is immediately followed by a witty, hoedown country banger (Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’), a borderline genius reinterpretation of a Perez Prado standard (Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No. 5’), a Spaghetti house floorfiller (Eiffel 65’s ‘Blue’), a Bee Gees cover given a suitably poptastic makeover (Steps’ legendary ‘Tragedy’ – 10 points to you if you immediately did *those* dance moves), and a then ex-Spice Girl reading out of ‘La Isla Bonita’ via Watford (Geri Halliwell’s ‘Mi Chico Latino’).

Point two, is that also, like the best albums always do – in the Now series or otherwise – they introduce you to some new sounds as well. So whilst Now 44 kept me bouncing with its inclusion of my favourites like say, S Club 7’s ‘S Club Party’ and Robbie Williams’ ‘She’s the One’, it also offered some possibilities of what made pop exciting – at least, to 10 year old me – at the turn of the millennium.

For instance, another ex-Spice Girl covering an obscure, then 10 year old lesser hit by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians (Emma Bunton and Tin Tin Out – ‘What I Am’) is placed on the same tracklist as a jangly, post-Britpop singalong (Supergrass, ‘Moving’), as is a saucy, clipped R&B workout (Jordan Knight – ‘Give it to You’) next to a soaring power ballad from a Disney movie (Phil Collins – ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’). Not to mention the majestic funk of Jamiroquai’s ‘Canned Heat’ and Wamdue Project’s ‘King of My Castle’ appearing next to the cool, subdued offerings from Gabrielle (‘Sunshine’) and Sixpence None the Richer (‘Kiss Me’).

Point three however is going back to what I said earlier. Every edition of Now pinpoints a particular moment – or 45 at a time to be exact – in pop history. In my case, Now 44 soundtracked the turn of the millennium – I was 9 months away from starting high school, was seeing in a new decade and new era, and every single one of the songs on here just reminds me of being a kid and carefree and discovering my own taste in music for the first time.

It’s this alone that can perhaps act as testament as to why the Now compilation continues to be a force to be reckoned with. So my challenge to you all this week is this – go on eBay or Amazon, or maybe scour a local charity shop and see if you can find and rediscover your first Now. If you feel the same way about yours that I feel about the 44th, it may be a couple of quid of happiness well spent.